Evangelism Re-defined: Missionaries with a Mission Field

This week I am continuing the sermon series I'm developing entitled, "The Missionary Next Door: Learning to Be A Witness Right Where You Are."

Evangelism is a loaded term for many Christians, and a dirty word for others.  Most of us who call ourselves Christians struggle to be witnesses And yet, it is one of the three basic commands that Jesus gave to his disciples--love God, love your neighbor as yourself, and go make more disciples.

The old "tried and true" forms of evangelism don't seem to be all that tried and true any longer.  Sitting down with someone and giving them the four spiritual laws complete with graphics and Scriptural references is not really going to be that effective in our culture any longer---if it ever really was.

Neither is banging on their door and asking them if they died right this second, do they know where they would spend eternity---in Heaven or in Hell?

We need a new approach.  We need to start looking at Evangelism through a Jesus-centered lens, and we need to re-define what it means to be an "evangelist"--a bearer of good news.

Let's read Acts 1:7-8

Before we dig into what Jesus said here, let's get a bit of background first.  To begin, Jesus has been raised from the dead, and the disciples are pretty fired up about this--to say the least.  They are thinking to themselves that the time for the kingdom that Jesus kept talking about before he was crucified has finally arrived. And their understanding about this kingdom was that they were going to be in charge.  They also thought that Israel was going to be on top of the world, and out from under the heel of the latest in a long line of Gentile empires.  The prophecies had come true at last!

You can't blame them, really.  The defeat, the loss they felt on the Friday Jesus was crucified... the fear that filled them when they thought them might be next... all of these things must have been absolutely paralyzing and awful.  But then Jesus was alive... and they must have been thinking that they were finally going to turn the tables on the haters and religious leaders.  It was time to win.

Then Jesus tells them his plan, and it looks nothing like that at all.

He tells them, you will be "martyrs..."  Which in Greek means "witnesses."  But still... that's a far cry from saying, "You will all rule with me at once!  Now, let's go pay a call on this Caesar fellow and take over his digs."

Isn't it sort of awesome that the word "martyr" which meant witness became a word that was synonymous with sacrifice?

So... martyrs, not rulers.

Then he tells them that they need to be heralds of the kingdom that is coming and is already here.  A herald goes before the king and announces that he's coming and/or has arrived.

Heralds aren't shy.  Heralds use trumpets.  Heralds aren't afraid to extol the virtue of the king.  Heralds believe so fervently in the glory of their king that they will go to great lengths to make sure everyone knows it.

And... heralds, not rulers

Then Jesus outlined his disciples mission field.  He told them, "Go to Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth..."  Jerusalem was easy enough... they were already there.  Judea?  They were familiar with it, too, so not that difficult.  But then there was Samaria.  The Jewish disciples couldn't stand the people from Samaria and the feeling was mutual.  Then there was the whole "to the ends of the earth" statement.  Now this could be taken in a couple of ways.  The ends of the earth could mean literally to every part of the known world, and then some.  Or, as some scholars think, it could have meant Rome---which was considered the "end of the world" for the known world at the time.

Either way, those last two places were not exactly the best places to go and be martyrs and heralds---which were both pretty daunting tasks to begin with.

So what can we learn about Evangelism from this little exchange?

First, it's not about winning.  Jesus made this perfectly clear.  There is nothing triumphant in this for you and I.  The only triumph, the only glory is to Christ himself.  The Apostle Paul said "if I boast, I boast in the Lord."  Second, this is not about recruiting people for the "winning team."  Lots of Christians don't get this.  They feel like the entire purpose of evangelism is for them to convince people that they are losing and the only way to win is to fulfill their church's membership requirements.

So what is it about?

This is what it's all about...

If you call yourself a Christian you are also a Missionary with a Mission field

When I was a kid I remember missionaries coming to my church and doing presentations with slide shows---only they used slides... real slides projected from a projector with one of those carousel things on top of the slide projector.

They would tell tales of the exotic foods they ate, the exotic people they encountered and all of the hardships they encountered... Then they would say that they were called by God to the mission field, and they needed our support to fulfill that calling.

And the entire time I would be thinking to myself, "Please God, don't ever call me to mission field."  The "mission field" was for brave souls who didn't mind living without running water and McDonald's.  These people were missionaries.  I wanted no part of it.  Let's be honest.  Most of us don't.  We are quite content to send other people to do that kind of thing so we don't have to...

Here's where we need some of that re-definition that I was talking about earlier.

First, if you call yourself a Christian, you are also a missionary...  
This isn't something that you can just ignore.  It's part of your DNA if you are a follower of Christ.  It's not a by-product of discipleship, it's the goal of it.  I know that's hard for most of us to hear because we want our own fulfillment, peace and serenity to be the goal of discipleship.

Jesus didn't die so we could be comfortable.

We are martyrs---witnesses---heralds---evangelists---missionaries...  It's both who we are and what we do.  You can deny it, run from it, ignore it, choose to interpret what I am saying differently... it doesn't matter.  To be Christian means to be a disciple of Christ, and to be a disciple means that you are a witness.

Second, we all have a mission field... 

Draw a circle that represents your first priority area in life.  This should be something like family, spouse, etc.

If you are tempted to put "God" or "Jesus" just don't do it.  Let's just assume that all of us would put that down as our first-first priority...  Okay?  I'm talking about the other first priority.  Label it.

Draw a second circle around the first one that represents your second priority in life.  Now label that one.

Now Draw a third circle around the second one that represents your third priority in life.

The little drawing to the right is mine, if you need a guide.

This diagram is the beginning of your mission field.  Like Jesus told his disciples to start close to home--maybe your mission field begins within the four walls of your house.  Maybe it's your church.  Maybe it's your community.

Your family needs the grace and peace of Jesus.  They need to hear it, they need to experience it, they need to embrace it.

Your church needs the grace and peace of Jesus.  There are people that you worship with each and every week that don't know Christ.  They might say they do, but their demeanor and their actions show otherwise.  They need you to tell them, to encourage them, to help them embrace grace and peace.

Your community needs the grace and peace  of Jesus.  Everywhere you go---your job, the corner store, your children's school...  It's a mission field full of the lost and lonely.  They need you to share your faith, and to lead them to the author of grace and peace.

What would this look like for our church?

It starts with our neighborhood, I think.  And then it moves outward to our regional context and to the world.  How are we supposed to be the "light of the world" as a church if we can't even be a light in our own neighborhood, right?  If something happened to us, our neighbors should miss us.

This is it.  One circle at a time.   It's not complicated.

So, you might be saying "But how do we do this?  I can't really do this."

That's right, you can't.  Jesus told his disciples that they would accomplish what he asked by the authority of God alone and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The difference between power and authority is subtle, but telling.

We do nothing by our own authority.  Not by our own name, standing, success, wealth, achievement...

All the authority comes from God.  We do not herald ourselves, but Jesus.

And power is the means by which we do this, but it's not our power.  The word that is used here is dynamis--which is the same root word for dynamite.  I love this.  The explosive power of the Holy Spirit will provide every ounce of courage, knowledge, steadiness, discernment... whatever it is that you require to enter your mission field and be a missionary.

My wife does this kind of thing really well.  The other day she was doing something beauty-related (I know what it was, I'm just being gentlemanly) and the young woman that was doing the treatment was chatting her up.  In the course of their conversation, my wife talked about how we recently added a little baby boy to our life, and what a blessing it has been despite our (ahem) advanced age.

The young woman revealed how she desired to have another child, but her husband wasn't enthusiastic about the idea.  My wife felt compelled at that point to tell the young woman the story of how little Jacob came to be.  She attended a Beth Moore conference a couple of years ago, and during the conference she felt that God was calling us to have another baby.  When she came home and told me this... I was less than thrilled.   I was thinking about how old I would be when the baby graduated from high school (60).  So I said, "No way!"

Then after a day or two, I began to feel like maybe I had spoken to soon.  I told Merideth that I was praying about it, and I did.  God changed my heart.  And Jacob is here because of it.

So Merideth shared this deeply personal story with this perfect stranger, and the young woman began to cry.  She told Merideth that it was exactly what she needed to hear...  And for the first time in a long time she felt peace and hope.

You are a missionary.  And you have a mission field.

You know who you are.  You know your calling.  You know where to go.

It's time to start witnessing.

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